(There are several similarly-named providers, but we're talking about the service based at SafeVPN.com, and not SafeVPN.net or SaferVPN.com.)
The SafeVPN website looks like it's been thrown together in a hurry. Feature descriptions feel like they've been cut and pasted from somewhere else, so for example the company says it's easy to use because there are 'no parental controls to set up and maintain' (much like almost every other VPN, then). Key stats such as network size aren't clearly displayed, while others vary depending where you look (the service protects up to three devices, says the front page, correctly; no, it's five, says the Features page, mistakenly).
- Want to try SafeVPN? Check out the website here
Elsewhere, prices are confused, with different figures on the Pricing and the signup pages. Navigation hasn't been fully thought through, so for example once you've clicked through to the Buy page, you're automatically redirected there, even if you try to return to the main page.)
Perhaps worst, although SafeVPN claims that it 'works on all popular platforms', with Android and iOS pages and links to 'Download from the App Store', neither worked for us. Later, once we had signed up with the Windows client, our web account page admitted that 'SafeVPN for Mobile' was 'coming soon', not available right now, as the rest of the website claims. That's very deceptive, and leaves us wondering why we should believe another word the SafeVPN website says.
While these are very important issues, SafeVPN does have some small plus points. We were surprised to see support available by phone, for instance, as well as email and live chat.
The network is a reasonable size, once you can find the details, with more than 100 locations spread across more than 50 countries. SafeVPN doesn't say who owns or manages these, but we noticed later than they included many Windscribe servers.
The SafeVPN website allows you to generate OVPN OpenVPN configuration files, too, perhaps allowing you to use the service on other platforms, including Android and iOS. This isn't easy to spot, though, and there's little documentation to help you make it work.
SafeVPN's pricing is a little complicated, and more expensive than many. Monthly plans are $6.99 for the first term, $8.99 on renewal; this drops to $4.99 a month if you pay six months up-front, but then rises to $9.98 on renewal, more expensive than the monthly plan; and you'll pay a low $2.99 a month for the first year on the annual plan, although this rises to $7.50 on renewal.
What's more, this only gets you support for connecting up to three devices. You can upgrade to support unlimited devices for a further $2.92 a month over the first year, rising to $5.83 afterwards. By year two that means you might be paying $13.33 a month on the annual plan to cover unlimited devices, compared to (for instance) Private Internet Access charging $2.91 a month, on its two-year plan, to cover a probably-adequate five devices.
Privacy and logging
Privacy is an issue with every VPN, but the SafeVPN website does its best to reassure you, stating that 'We promise not to sell your browsing history' and 'We won’t keep a log of what you access.'
The document is lengthy and packed with detailed clauses and GDPR-related jargon, but, unfortunately, it's mostly about general website and business procedures, with no clear information about the VPN.
The only extra details we could find were in a brief support document, which stated 'Safe VPN does not monitor your internet searches, or visited websites. We do, however, note the IP of your device and monitor the amount of traffic you put through the Safe VPN servers...'
It seems that there's some degree of session logging, but how much? At a minimum, the system might be recording a single incoming IP address as it connects, and maintaining a running total of bandwidth used. But it's also possible that SafeVPN is keeping a record of every session, with incoming and outgoing IP addresses. There's not enough information here to say for sure.
The SafeVPN Windows client installed easily. On its first launch, we were prompted to create a new account by entering our name, email address and a password.
Registering your details gets you seven days of free access to nine servers (Canada East, Canada West, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Switzerland.) You can't use US servers or SafeVPN's specialist Netflix-unblocking locations, so it can't compare with a full-featured trial, but it's better than you'll get with many competitors. And if you do sign up and SafeVPN doesn't deliver, you're protected by a 30-day money-back guarantee.
The client interface has a familiar interface which, if you've ever used another VPN app, you'll recognize right away. A central console displays your current location and gives you a big Connect button; other locations are available on a simple list, and there are a couple of useful configuration options in a Settings box.
The client's location list doesn't have a 'Best' or 'Automatic' selection to access the nearest server, unfortunately, and there's no Favorites system to speed up re-connecting to your most commonly-used locations. The server list does enable choosing either countries or the locations within them, though (useful, as there are nine locations in the eastern US alone). It also highlights servers which specialize in video streaming or support P2P.
Choose a location, click Connect, and desktop notifications make it clear what the client is doing, and when you do get connected, the client interface updates to indicate its status and display your new IP address.
The Settings panel gives you options to load the client when Windows starts, to automatically connect to the best or last connection, and to enable a firewall (SafeVPN's name for its kill switch), which automatically blocks your internet connection if the VPN connection drops.
We tested the client by forcibly closing the VPN connection, and found it coped very well. The interface updated to tell us there was a problem; the kill switch correctly blocked internet access for all other apps; the client automatically tried to reconnect to the VPN, and a desktop notification told us when we were protected again.
Overall, this was a decent performance, but the Windows client was still short on many of the features we see in other top VPN clients. There's no way to change or reconfigure your protocol, for instance (it's OpenVPN-only.) There are no DNS options, and no automatic protection whenever you access an insecure or untrusted network. VPN newbies may appreciate SafeVPN's simplicity, but more demanding or experienced users will be frustrated by its lack of power.
The SafeVPN website claims the service can 'unlock restricted content', 'from video streaming to social networks', and provides twelve examples: Amazon, BBC iPlayer, Facebook, Google, HBO, Hulu, Instagram, Linkedin, Skype, Twitter, WhatsApp and YouTube.
The company also claims it can block Netflix, which is probably the biggest selling point of all, but hides this detail away on another page rather than displaying it up-front. (As we said, SafeVPN's website needs a lot of work.)
We began our testing by logging into each of SafeVPN's UK servers and attempting to stream content from BBC iPlayer. Despite being named on the SafeVPN site, this didn't work, and the BBC site warned 'this content is not available in your location' each time.
We had better luck with YouTube, where connecting to any of SafeVPN's US servers allowed us to view US-only content.
Accessing US Netflix is usually more difficult, even with VPNs which support it. Typically, you're forced to connect to multiple US locations, one after the other, until you find one that works.
SafeVPN avoids all that by providing a virtual location, 'UltraFlix US', which is specifically for US Netflix viewing. Choose it, and you should be able to get access to the platform, every time.
Our experience of SafeVPN so far had left us skeptical of its website promises, but this one turned out to be absolutely true. We connected to UltraFlix US and were able to browse and stream US-only Netflix content, without difficulty.
Our performance tests showed that SafeVPN was capable of decent speeds, but these could vary considerably, even within the same country. For instance, our local UK servers could give us anything from a below-average 35Mbps to a very acceptable 65Mbps on our 75Mbps test line.
It was much the same with European connections, where Amsterdam averaged a solid 60Mbps, most countries reached at least 30Mbps, but Greece was often under 10Mbps.
US speeds also showed a wide range of results across SafeVPN's locations. These were generally very acceptable, though, with eastern locations giving us anything from 30 to 60Mbps, while western locations range from 20 to 40Mbps.
Speeds tailed off with some of the more long-distance locations, but even here, most remained usable. For instance, Australia, Brazil and Hong Kong typically all managed speeds of 10-20Mbps.
A few of the less common locations gave us real problems - Indonesia struggled to 2-4Mbps, Malaysia barely reached 1Mbps - but that's much the same as you'll see with many providers.
Overall, it's clear that SafeVPN can deliver good speeds, but exactly what you'll see will depend very much on the servers you choose. If you sign up the service, run speed tests across multiple servers to find out what works for you.
SafeVPN has the basis of a good VPN, but it's missing some important elements, and the lack of mobile clients, when the website deceptively implies they're available, is a major problem. One day, when the company sorts itself out, this might be a decent VPN. But right now, you should leave it alone.
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